Growing up Normal

win badge I’ve decided to continue to intersperse my photo focus with writing –  short excerpts from the volumes I’ve written.  Comments and feedback welcome.

I think of my growing up as being “normal” … but, of course, I see now that my “normal” is not anyone else’s “normal”.  To me it was normal because all my friends were growing up the same way.   All of us had mothers that were there when we came home from school … except Wendy two doors down whose mother worked … what was it like coming home from school to an empty house?   We were all two parent families … except Mrs. Brooks across the road who was raising two sons on her own … how would I feel if Dad didn’t come home every night? All our neighbours had two children … except the McFarlane’s who had eight … how did they all get along and where did they all sleep?

When people learn I grew up in Quebec they say, “Oh, you speak French?”  But I tell them, alas, no, I grew up in an English enclave … at that time there was only the one French family in our entire neighbourhood.   That was normal.

The four of us lived in a comfortable three bedroom bungalow – a wood fireplace in the living room where we sometimes popped popcorn; a finished basement where we could entertain our friends, and a separate dining room where we ate, even breakfast – we never ate in the kitchen.  Although it was large enough, the space by the front window where the dinette would sit if we’d had one was always left empty.   Dad doled out a weekly allowance:  25¢, raised to 50¢, and by the time I was a teenager I received $1.00.   Summers were spent at a lake, somewhere, and Christmas vacations were spent skating – Mum helped me on with my skates lacing them tightly, and Debby and I hobbled to the rink by the club house.  There we glided and twirled through figure eights for hours, fancying ourselves to be the next Barbara Ann Scott.

Aunts and uncles didn’t participate in my upbringing and I didn’t know my cousins well.  We rarely had family gatherings, except at Christmas and then only with Mum’s side of the family – her parents, and two surviving brothers – Uncle Doug and his family, and Uncle Howard, a lifelong bachelor. I have nine cousins but we never got all together.   Dad’s parents and brother lived in Hamilton, too far away. His two sisters lived in Montreal, but our only visits with them were during  the Christmas season delivering presents for my cousins, engaging in some polite chat, and sipping a drink before departure.   I guess that’s why Dad so often asked me as an adult if I had called my sister recently – encouraging us to keep in touch and stay friends. (Which worked, Dad – we imagine you looking down on us and being pleased with our closeness.)

The drive home from Granny Laird’s on Christmas night was magical. All the businesses along the Cote de Liesse decorated huge Christmas trees.  As tired as I was after the festivities of Christmas day, I stayed awake to see them, my nose pressed to the car window in anticipation of the majestic trees lit with coloured lights twinkling like a rainbow of stars in the darkness. And then, on the other side of Cote de Liesse was an orphanage and on every passing I wondered about the lives of the children within its walls.

So, normal was a home with both parents together, a working Dad, a Mum who was always there but no extended family;  my own room, and only one sibling, living in an English-speaking, upwardly mobile neighbourhood in suburbia, summers at the lake, a new car in the driveway every two years and never a serious want.

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16 thoughts on “Growing up Normal

  1. Really beautiful and heartfelt, I enjoyed reading about your memories – your “normal” has been such a lovely childhood.
    PS: This post made me realise it’s time again to call my brother who lives in another country – fortunately we have managed to stay close. 🙂

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  2. I agree with Tish about how much you convey here in so few words, something I always admire. When I write, I’m constantly going back and taking words out! I can’t believe how similar our childhoods were – mine in upstate NY, the same way of using the home, the little allowance, the other families in the neighborhood, where different meant Catholic and a big family, the working father and stay–at-home mother, the limited contact with extended family, all of whom were far away. Yes, “normal” writ large, but normal is whatever you take for granted, isn’t’ it?

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    1. Hi Lynn, and thank you – I really appreciate the feedback on how you perceive my writing – I have to say though, that this was probably not my first crack at that piece – I’ve been over so much of it so often I’m getting out of touch with how it reads. So thank you. I feel very fortunate for the childhood I had, knowing now as an adult that so many experience so much less. Interesting to hear how you related – understood that part about Catholics vs Protestants being as much diversity as there was? 😉 That my writings caused you to hark back to your own neighbourhood days is gratifying. Thank you.

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      1. Oh yes, your writing does that! I understand the honing and working on a piece over and over – it’s worth it. Diversity? Right, that was it. Food was limited to very middle of the road choices, too – when I moved to NYC for school friends made fun of my simple tastes, but soon they expanded. And I agree, we were very fortunate, compared to many.

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  3. I love the economical way you evoked your childhood sense of normality in the first para – by asking those questions: what would it be like to come home to an empty house, where did the family with 8 kids all sleep. Very vivid writing, Lynne.

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    1. Thank you, Lisa. I’m gratified to hear that my writing strikes a chord with some and enjoy it rather than finding it boring. My life, after all, is not that exciting – not in terms of drama and life altering events. As I said, I just drifted.

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    1. Hi, Ruth. The ones lived furthest from but were closest to in terms of relationships – we had little contact during our raising family years but have loosely reconnected through social media and have talked, loosely, about a reunion. It WOULD be nice to see them again.

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